As new technologies become available, companies (especially smaller ones) are having to decide which to employ, which to bypass, and how to integrate new technology into their existing systems.
If the cloud is part of your business strategy, here's how to streamline the process to make your business more efficient.
SaaS means "Software as a Service" and is also called software on demand or hosted applications. There are several advantages to using SaaS products. You don't have to upgrade hardware or buy and install new hardware to run these applications. They're generally cheaper than licensed apps (the ones you have to buy and install), and the service comes with only a monthly fee. There's no difficult installation process, and you don't have to deal with compatibility issues.
SaaS systems, if chosen correctly, can simplify your processes and make cloud use easier for both your employees and your IT department. However, choose wisely. Make sure the company offers excellent customer service, because you'll be at their mercy if something goes wrong. Choose a provider who is quickly responsive to customer needs. Don't take the word of their testimonials page - look for blogs and forum groups to find people who have used the product and can vouch for the company's customer service department.
Before investing in cloud services, survey each department to determine its needs. What's working for them? What needs to be improved? What would they like to see in an improved system? Too often, IT and management make decisions about workflow in departments when they don't actually know how those people do their jobs every day.
It's a good idea to include one decision-making manager and one IT staff member in these surveys. Spend some time in the different departments - customer service, production, accounting, human resources, etc. - and see how they do what they do each day. Including all the employees in the decision-making process ensures you get a system that works for everyone, and it also helps the employees feel a sense of ownership in the changes.
As much as possible, you want to standardize the apps and procedures across the departments of the company. This helps IT, because they're dealing with consistent issues. It also makes the workflow seamless, and when employees move from one department to another they're already aware of how things work.
When selecting cloud servers and applications, make sure the product is suitable for all the departments. If you've done your departmental surveys, this will be an easy decision to make. Never choose an application that only works for one department, because the more you can include when you negotiate your package deal, the less expensive those monthly service charges will be. If you have to invest in an entirely different set of applications for each department, it's going to get expensive.
Even the best new systems won't work properly if the IT department and the employees aren't properly trained to use them. Training should always begin with your IT staff, and those employees can help ease the other departments into the new cloud system. Training sessions are a good time to explain how changes (which are often scary to employees) are going to benefit the company as a whole.
Non-tech employees have difficulty sometimes understanding the difference among file sharing, syncing, and backing up. Make sure they have a working knowledge of how the cloud works and what's actually going on between their desktop and the cloud as they do their jobs. Explain the difference in working with an onsite server differs from working in the cloud, such as how they can access files from different devices and how several employees can work on the same document simultaneously.
Security issues don't go away when you switch to the cloud, they simply move to a new location. It doesn't matter how well the applications work if the data stored there is insecure. You owe it to your employees, customers, vendors, and the business to put security as your highest priority. In this age of information, it's not a matter of if someone is going to try to hack into the system, it's simply a matter of when and how. Downtime caused by a hacked or DoS attacked cloud server can cost companies thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars.
Don't assume that everyone who advertises cloud based servers takes security seriously. Do your homework. Research their security measures, ask about their security procedures, and see what they offer in terms of guarantees. Also, find out what measures they have in place to address a security breach when it does occur. Know the location of your cloud service provider (are they domestically located or in another country?) and what measures they have in place for a natural disaster or terrorist threat.
A common mistake for companies to make is to assume that once the majority of business applications are moved to the cloud, they no longer need a fully staffed IT department. IT is still going to be your primary source for installing and maintaining hardware, and will become your front line in keeping the cloud operations running smoothly.
Though the day-to-day operations of the IT department will be different in the cloud, they're still an important component in keeping systems updated, secure, and maintained. IT is also your best resource for training employees on using the system and in helping you make sure you're getting the service you're paying for from your cloud and SaaS providers.
In essence, the cloud streamlines your business insomuch as how these services are selected and used within the company. Most companies at this juncture are opting for a hybrid cloud system, which incorporates cloud based applications with some servers on site. This allows companies to maintain more control of their operations as they weigh the benefits and make the decisions necessary to fully engage in cloud services.
Image via Flickr by theaucitron